Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. II. Ben Jonson to Dryden
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Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. II. The Seventeenth Century: Ben Jonson to Dryden
 
Il Penseroso
By John Milton (1608–1674)
 
  HENCE, vain deluding joys,
The brood of Folly without father bred!
How little you bested,
  Or fill the fixed mind with all your toys!
Dwell in some idle brain,        5
  And fancies fond with gaudy shapes possess,
As thick and numberless
As the gay motes that people the sunbeams;
Or likest hovering dreams,
The fickle pensioners of Morpheus’ train.        10
But hail, thou goddess sage and holy,
Hail, divinest Melancholy!
Whose saintly visage is too bright
To hit the sense of human sight,
And therefore to our weaker view        15
O’erlaid with black, staid wisdom’s hue;
Black, but such as in esteem
Prince Memnon’s sister might beseem,
Or that starr’d Ethiop queen that strove
To set her beauty’s praise above        20
The sea-nymphs, and their powers offended:
Yet thou art higher far descended;
Thee bright-hair’d Vesta, long of yore,
To solitary Saturn bore;
His daughter she; in Saturn’s reign        25
Such mixture was not held a stain:
Oft in glimmering bowers and glades
He met her, and in secret shades
Of woody Ida’s inmost grove,
Whilst yet there was no fear of Jove.        30
  Come, pensive nun, devout and pure,
Sober, steadfast, and demure,
All in a robe of darkest grain,
Flowing with majestic train,
And sable stole of cypress lawn,        35
Over thy decent shoulders drawn.
Come, but keep thy wonted state,
With even step, and musing gait;
And looks commercing with the skies,
Thy rapt soul sitting in thine eyes:        40
There, held in holy passion still,
Forget thyself to marble, till
With a sad leaden downward cast
Thou fix them on the earth as fast;
And join with thee calm Peace, and Quiet,        45
Spare Fast, that oft with gods doth diet,
And hears the Muses in a ring
Aye round about Jove’s altar sing:
And add to these retired Leisure,
That in trim gardens takes his pleasure.        50
But first, and chiefest, with thee bring,
Him that yon soars on golden wing,
Guiding the fiery-wheeled throne,
The cherub Contemplation;
And the mute Silence hist along,        55
’Less Philomel will deign a song,
In her sweetest saddest plight,
Smoothing the rugged brow of night,
While Cynthia checks her dragon yoke,
Gently o’er the accustom’d oak:        60
Sweet bird, that shunn’st the noise of folly,
Most musical, most melancholy!
Thee, chantress, oft the woods among
I woo, to hear thy even-song;
And, missing thee, I walk unseen        65
On the dry smooth-shaven green,
To behold the wand’ring moon,
Riding near her highest noon,
Like one that had been led astray
Through the heaven’s wide pathless way;        70
And oft, as if her head she bow’d,
Stooping through a fleecy cloud.
  Oft, on a plat of rising ground,
I hear the far-off curfew sound,
Over some wide water’d shore,        75
Swinging slow with sullen roar:
Or, if the air will not permit,
Some still removed place will fit,
Where glowing embers through the room
Teach light to counterfeit a gloom;        80
Far from all resort of mirth,
Save the cricket on the hearth,
Or the bellman’s drowsy charm,
To bless the doors from nightly harm.
  Or let my lamp, at midnight hour,        85
Be seen in some high lonely tower,
Where I may oft outwatch the Bear,
With thrice-great Hermes, or unsphere
The spirit of Plato, to unfold
What worlds or what vast regions hold        90
The immortal mind that hath forsook
Her mansion in this fleshly nook:
And of those demons that are found
In fire, air, flood, or under ground,
Whose power hath a true consent        95
With planet or with element.
Sometime let gorgeous tragedy
In sceptr’d pall come sweeping by,
Presenting Thebes, or Pelops’ line,
Or the tale of Troy divine;        100
Or what (though rare) of later age
Ennobl’d hath the buskin’d stage.
  But, O sad virgin, that thy power
Might raise Musæus from his bower!
Or bid the soul of Orpheus sing        105
Such notes as, warbled to the string,
Drew iron tears down Pluto’s cheek,
And made hell grant what love did seek:
Or call up him that left half told
The story of Cambuscan bold,        110
Of Camball, and of Algarsife,
And who had Canace to wife,
That own’d the virtuous ring and glass;
And of the wondrous horse of brass,
On which the Tartar king did ride:        115
And if aught else great bards beside
In sage and solemn tunes have sung,
Of turneys, and of trophies hung,
Of forests, and enchantments drear,
Where more is meant than meets the ear.        120
  Thus, night, oft see me in thy pale career,
Till civil-suited morn appear,
Not trick’d and frounc’d as she was wont
With the Attic boy to hunt,
But kerchieft in a comely cloud,        125
While rocking winds are piping loud,
Or usher’d with a shower still,
When the gust hath blown his fill,
Ending on the rustling leaves,
With minute drops from off the eaves.        130
And, when the sun begins to fling
His flaring beams, me, goddess, bring
To arched walks of twilight groves,
And shadows brown, that Sylvan loves,
Of pine, or monumental oak,        135
Where the rude axe, with heaved stroke,
Was never heard the nymphs to daunt,
Or fright them from their hallow’d haunt.
There in close covert by some brook,
Where no profaner eye may look,        140
Hide me from day’s garish eye,
While the bee with honey’d thigh,
That at her flowery work doth sing,
And the waters murmuring,
With such concert as they keep,        145
Entice the dewy-feather’d sleep;
And let some strange mysterious dream
Wave at his wings in airy stream
Of lively portraiture display’d,
Softly on my eyelids laid.        150
And, as I wake, sweet music breathe
Above, about, or underneath,
Sent by some spirit to mortals good,
Or the unseen genius of the wood.
  But let my due feet never fail        155
To walk the studious cloister’s pale,
And love the high-embowed roof,
With antique pillars massy proof,
And storied windows richly dight,
Casting a dim religious light:        160
There let the pealing organ blow,
To the full-voiced quire below,
In service high and anthems clear,
As may with sweetness, through mine ear,
Dissolve me into extasies,        165
And bring all heaven before mine eyes.
  And may at last my weary age
Find out the peaceful hermitage,
The hairy gown and mossy cell,
Where I may sit and rightly spell        170
Of every star that heaven doth shew,
And every herb that sips the dew;
Till old experience do attain
To something like prophetic strain.
  These pleasures, Melancholy, give,        175
And I with thee will choose to live.
 
 
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